Tuesday, November 4, 2014

So How's the Mess and Progress?

The summer of 2014 began our three year renovation project, the product of our successful capitol campaign “Leading the Way”.  Our 1960’s cinder-block rectangle was over-due for a make-over of academic spaces.  Photos and reflections of the 2014 summer mess are posted on the previous blog post “You Gotta Make a Mess to Make Progress”.  The summer of 2015 will see complete renovations to the Library, Computer Science and IT creating an Information Commons.  Full renovations will finalize in 2016.  We are making a tremendous mess to make progress.

Many schools contact us to ask how we go about such large scale change with seemingly little drama.  The answer is always the same, pay attention to context.  In the case of the classrooms, we went to teachers and asked:  What do you need for teaching and learning today? Tomorrow? In 5 years?  AND we went to students and asked the same questions.  Our community is full of bright, innovative minds and the information we gathered directed our decision-making.  I cannot say this enough – by taking the needs of the community as the framework for change… the only way to move is forward.

So what do the rooms look like?  Flexibility is key.  The furniture moves, multi-screen displays eliminate blind spots and ceiling mounted audio enhancement systems ensure all senses are covered.  We are an X:1 BYOT school (all students bring a device for learning of their choice… most bring 2-3).  We use a Barco Clickshare system to share screens of personal devices.  A Lumens Ladibug document camera ensures 3D objects can also be shares, photographed or video captured.  Each room as its own access point (cinder block walls are a…. well you know).  A wall mounted Extron system ensures inputs are functional and not available gremlins to play with the wiring (ask your Tech Director about wiring gremlins if you are not familiar with the species).

New Floor Plan 
The Information Commons is our next large scale academic space to address.  In conversations with students and faculty we identified similar needs as the classroom… flexibility; collaborative and independent spaces; teaching and research tools for formal and informal experiences; and a comfortable place to sit in silence.  Like the classroom, the material practices of “library” still need to happen (material circulation teaching, computer use) but the core change in symbolic meaning really drives the renovations… collaborative learning.  So we’re opening up the space, adding small group study rooms, a maker-space, and open concept reference desk to facilitate information instruction and lots of different kinds of furniture.  Should be exciting.

Artist Drawing of Open Concept Reference Desk and Collaborative Spaces

Changes to the physical spaces dramatically change what happens in those spaces.  Instead of quiet rows of passive students, we experience much more dynamic learning experiences.  Wander our halls and you will see a lot of movement, hear noisy discussions and witness students and faculty experiencing academic content in rich, affective ways. As an evaluating administrator, I have the joy of spending my days in our classrooms.  I have observed backchannel discussion on one screen while a movie plays on another.  I have observed increased use of Harkness Table discussions.  Students easily work in dialogue pairs and then shift back share-out with larger class.  Students share their own multimedia creations from their devices in the classroom.  Our librarians are already moving from traditional structures with their new Embedded Librarian program, lessening of restrictions on noise and they even gave up an office space to give students a collaborative, private room.  Brebeuf is engaged.

We'll keep posting as the dust flies.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

You Gotta Make a Mess to Make Progress

Time for a remodeling update!!  For those new readers, we are remodeling 15 classrooms, our Multi-Purpose Room (performance and gathering space), Art Department and several academic centers.  In a classic portrayal of "you gotta make a mess to make progress"... we've definitely been making a mess!

Main Hallway

Classrooms were taken down to studs and cement.  New electrical wiring, new HDMI and ethernet, new HVAC, new ceiling grid, tiles, flooring are installed or about to be installed.  Materials are staged in the hallway for installation.  Projectors, screens, TV's and desktops will be moved with furniture in later weeks.

We are reaching the precarious stage where it looks like we are behind schedule.  We aren't... but appearances belie realities.  It's a time of frustration with the mess, weariness with the random power outages/alarms and panic that the Fall Semester is rapidly approaching and the chairs haven't been delivered.
As with all disruption... the propensity for "what if..." could out pace the vision.  Here is where faith lives.

I've written before on the symbolic and material meanings of physical space. Classrooms hold symbolic value (right or wrong) in American culture as the entry point of equality.  Education is the vehicle to success and prosperity... the classroom is portrayed as the idyllic innocence of childhood and the path to success.  And yet, just like libraries, classrooms have material functions to provide... testing, discussion, writing, lecture, viewing, reading... all those activities that are a part of "education".  I have to wonder:

  • Can learning happen without chairs? 
  • Can success occur if the paint isn't dry?  
  • Can discussion happen without a projector? 

 I would argue YES to all the above.  Physical space can influence, inspire and enhance... but ultimately relationship, human relationship, is what binds us and facilitates growth.

But this is a post about renovating classroom space!  So... living within individual symbolic and material context, our old excuses to validate stasis are becoming obsolete. Furniture doesn't have to stay in neat rows to symbolize orderly teaching.  Students can project and share from personal devices - sharing their findings from their personal location.  This shifts the material practice to student-centered activities and away from teacher-centered lecture.  Suddenly we find ourselves with limitless possibility... on the cutting edge (if not bleeding edge) of educational practice to support student learning.  Exciting and daunting at the same time because our symbolic and material expectations of school are intentionally unsteady.

It's a little messy around here.  This amount of physical disruption is going to cause some dissonance.  The work of redefining the symbolic and material understanding of the classroom is a time for relationship -  listening, dialogue and patience... and maybe some Windex and ibuprofen.  Classes begin here August 12th... Prayers are welcome.  Visitors are welcome in October or so when the paint is dry.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hello Blog... It's Been a While

Permit me a moment of reflection... and to just start writing again.  I’ve been learning how to be an Assistant Principal these past few months.  While I do not pretend that I know it all, I’d say I am at a healthy 38% “got a handle on this thing”!  I am coming up for air and thought it was time to jot down some reflections.

Looking through my Leadership Seminars journal (shameless JSEA pandering) over the past months, a couple of themes recur as I make the transition from ed tech to whole school context:

  • Ghastly Emotional Scenes (GES) happen.  The trick is not to get caught up in the drama.  
  • Be careful of the Eye of Mordor Syndrome.  Running one’s cursory glance over the land to settle with razor focus on one unsuspecting soul.  Not fair to anyone to have an overwhelmed administrator suddenly focus and get in the way.  Trust and relationship builds success.
  • At the same time, don’t isolate yourself.  Trust and relationship builds success.
  • Accept tension.  Tension is not bad.  Tension reminds us that students, teachers, curriculum, wellness are not an “All or Nothing” to be fixed, solved or fired.  
  • It does not all have to happen today.  
  • Be yourself – I am still an introvert.  I am still pastoral in my leadership style. @JDferries still annoys me from 3 feet away….

In her book “Seven Sacred Pauses”  author Macrina Wiederkehr writes  for morning prayer, “…May I live with the kind of presence that enables others to feel at home.”   In the daily rush and muck of administrative life this has been my prayer most mornings (outside of frantic Help Me! intercessions to varied saints). 
After that – the rest falls into place.

Happy June to All!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Virtual Learning Days and the Winter of '14

 On a cold day in mid-February, The Indiana Department of Education opened applications for their Distance Virtual Learning program.  The application qualifies schools to request Virtual Learning Days to cover closures due to inclement weather.  On February 26, I received the official word that Brebeuf Jesuit was approved for the IDOE Inclement Weather Virtual Learning Option.  In plain words – if we had to close due to snow we could officially take school online and it would count for our mandated 180 days.

In my ideal world, we were going to have at least 9 - 10 months of dialogue, reflection and pilot lessons with the idea of hosting a Virtual Learning Day.  I am most comfortable working in collaborative process which takes a little time.  For better or worse, Mother Nature appeared to have great confidence that we did not need that much time…. Weather predictions for a major snow event began even as I read our approval email.


Brebeuf Jesuit is well positioned to hit the ground on a Virtual Learning Day.  Our faculty have been 1:1 with tablet based PC’s since 2006.  We've been cloud-based with an LMS since the same time.  Two years ago we went 1:1 across the whole learning community with our Bring Your Own Technology initiative (see any previous post).  We are a Google Apps for Education school.  Teachers and students are very comfortable in cloud-based environments. And as you might have read in my previous post, we had experimented most of this brutal winter with keeping the learning moving forward in virtual environments.

But a five day turn around was going to put us to the test on how flexible we really are.  So what happened?  

 Experience – A Timeline 

Wednesday, Feb 26th….
Receive notice from IDOE that we are approved for Virtual Learning Days. 

I sent out message to faculty and staff announcing our participation in the program.  In consult with Principal, we come up with an outline of expectations.  This was all done by email. 

The email read in part: 
If we would need to take an Virtual Learning Day yet this year, the IDOE is well aware of our infrastructure, access processes and teacher talents in online learning activities.   However, I will need to submit evidence of student virtual learning.  I am requesting the following:

1.       Edline as Home base
a.       Only for classes that would meet the day of Virtual Learning
b.      Announce Virtual Learning objectives by 8:30am the day of school closure via Edline News item on your class page. 
c.       Link any videos, handouts, readings, planned Twitter chats, Google Hangouts, etc. to that News announcement with clear directions of what student is responsible to complete/prepare/produce.
d.      Our future weather closure notice will include directions for parents and students to check Edline for Virtual Learning instructions.
2.       Secondary sites such as Twitter or G+ Community are fine but make sure the News item on Edline is posted first.   This will clearly articulate learning goals to students and parents AND make it easy for me to collect evidence to submit to IDOE.
3.       Be prepared to send me a sample of student work after the Virtual Learning Day.  The IDOE will request evidence of “time on task or learning growth”.   

Reflection:  Email is less than ideal… especially in this case as the winter storm was already being heavily discussed.  On reflection, my excitement to share information took over. More face to face conversation, even in the hallway was needed.

Here’s the thing though… almost immediate the brainstorming started to fly. 

Thursday February 27- Friday February 28

Utilizing YouTube video, online discussion forums, readings, flip videos, Twitter, Edmodo, Google Docs and many other resources… the 27th and 28th  I spent reading lesson plans, talking on the phone and in the hallway…faculty collaborated...ideas were thrown around...

An Ed Tech Newsletter was created to give further samples to clarify expectations. 

Saturday March 1- Sunday March 2

I watch as News items were posted on class pages in the LMS as requested….we were ready…

Monday, March 3rd

It failed to snow.

Credit: Bill Watterson 

Okay, to be fair, Indianapolis received 2.7 inches of snow.  Which is not nearly enough to cancel school.   Feeling a little let down, but grateful for a day of face to face interaction, we had a normal instructional day on Monday.  For as Kevin O'Brien, SJ writes in his article The Classroom as Holy Ground:

In Jesuit education, teaching is not just about disseminating information and teaching career skills.  In the vision of Ignatius and other religious educators, teaching is a vocation, a mission and a labor of love...That love reveals itself primarily in the relationship between teacher and student.

Still, I learned a lot over the past week about Virtual Learning Days (beside how wicked awesome the faculty and students are at Brebeuf). 

Clear expectations are key…. Whether faculty time, assignment scope or student responsibility. 
  • Consider recommended “office hours” to narrow time online expectations for teachers.  This also gives students the security that they will receive prompt attention for their questions.
  • Consider how much is enough.  The idea of a Virtual Learning Day is not to dump 12 hours of busy work in the lap of the students.  Reflect realistically on would occur during face to face class time.
  • And yes, students are responsible for the work.  You can hold them to the usual standards of assignment completion.
 Communicate to the entire community
  • We were on a time crunch – but still communicated out via our Learning Management System, weekly online newsletter, email and face to face.  Now that we have some time… we’ll be even better.
  • Ed Tech Newsletter (follow this link to entire newsletter)

 Look at other school’s sites
Has your school tried a Virtual Learning Day?  Add your reflections below in the comments... what worked?  what didn't?  The idea of the Snow Day has changed forever with the Winter of '14.  No longer are schools going to consider weather the end of learning.  But let's do it intentionally, with clear expectations, clear purpose, in right relationship ... and safe at home.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

This Ain't Your 1970's Snow Day

It's been a rough winter here in the MidWest. Schools are scrambling to gather their 180 days in Indiana.  But face it, an extra day (or 4) tacked on in May is not going to make up for the momentum lost in January.  But hey folks!  There are resources out there that can help keep the momentum and the learning going.... well beyond the four physical walls of the school building. Or as we like to say...communicate, collaborate, consume and curate... anytime/anywhere regardless of the weather (unless you lose power like we did in the January 7th storm then you're pretty much just reading by paper and staying warm by fire #17thcenturylearning). 

As I like to say, "This Ain't Your 1970's Snow Day..." Or at least it certainly doesn't have to be ... although pancakes, hot cocoa and sledding are still allowed (unless it's another one of those polar vortexes in which case I highly recommend this experiment from Minnesota Cold).  

Twitter #Chats

  • Simple push notifications.
Send out reminders, reading links or review questions for students.
  •  Class #hashtag
Asynchronous but easily searched. Say #BJPSEng9 if you teach freshmen. No need for your students to have a Twitter account (but most do) – hashtags are publicly accessible on public accounts. You could also make a class Twitter account (in which case it would be @BJPSEng9). 
  • Live #chat

Set up a time (say normal class time) letting students know you will be live and online. Send out prepared questions and expect answers.  Or just be there to answer student questions. Use a class hashtag for students to follow or read later.

Google Apps for Education (aka GAFE)

Had a small group activity in mind for room 218 period 3? Set up a Google Doc and have students answer questions collaboratively from home.  A shared Google Presentation allows students to view or view & edit materials easily.  If you have a presentation all ready for “live” class – throw it up to a shared class Folder and have students view outside of class.

Google Forms

Google Forms can be turned into a quiz simply by asking content specific questions.  Or they can be designed more like a handout where students answer/practice/reflect on topic areas you wanted to cover face to face.

G+ Communities

You can create a G+ Community for just your class.  This makes a group page where you can upload readings, videos, links and have students comment on them. Help pages for this feature can be found at https://support.google.com/plus/answer/2872671?hl=en

Try a HangOut

Feeling like a live chat?  Set up a Google Hangout on Air. The added benefit is this records the discussion for later viewing (say by students are not able to join the live feed). Regular Hangouts work too by clicking the New Hangout button in your G+. I have seen this used for quiz review, new material or discussion. Detailed how to’s can be found here… https://support.google.com/plus/answer/2553119?hl=en

***Student must be in your G+ Community to “hangout”

Other Resources


A favorite of Brebeuf Social Studies types… looks like Facebook but you must be an educator to make a page.  Students are invited in with a class password. Post videos, readings and links and begin the discussion.


Since we are a GAFE school, every student and faculty member has an AMDG account which comes with YouTube access. (Not a GAFE school? Your regular GMail account works).  You can upload a self-created video (via Camtasia or WeVideo) or edit directly into YouTube. More details at https://support.google.com/youtube/answer/57924?hl=en

Class Blog or Website

Several of our Brebeuf faculty have created their own class pages using various free blogging tools.  Check out Edublogs, Blogger and Weebly to start. 

Go For the Free Trials

Try a streaming conference product… heck, it’s a free trial.  Check out GoToMeeting or AdobeConnect.  Winter can’t last forever, right?